The Big Ten expands to 14 teams for the 2014 season with the additions of Maryland (ACC) and Rutgers (American).
The idiotic division names of "Leaders" and "Legends" are out the window, replaced by simple "East"
and "West" monikers. But by trying to stay true to the east/west geography, the conference wound up stacking stalwarts Michigan, defending champ Michigan State, and Ohio State in the East division. That's also where both newcomers got stuck.
The next major change on the horizon won't go into effect until 2016. That's when the teams will begin playing a 9-game conference slate with 3 cross-over contests and a round-robin division schedule. For 2014 and 2015, each team will play just 2 cross-divisional games.
Penn State is the only team in the Big Ten that will be breaking in a new head coach. The sanction-laden Nittany Lions will once again be ineligible for the conference title or the bowl season, so new head cheese James Franklin (Vanderbilt) has his work cut out for him. Bill O'Brien (Houston Texans) was able to keep the program intact after the shattering developments of the Jerry Sandusky scandal that led to jail for Sandusky, the dismissal of legendary head coach Joe Paterno (and top administrators), and a 4-year NCAA probation for the program.
(NOTE: The NCAA on September 8 announced that Penn State's penalties were being shortened to allow for a bowl invitation this season, and the Big Ten shortly afterward announced that Penn State would be eligible to compete for the conference title this season.)
The change at Penn State drops the Nittany Lions to a predicted finish of 4-8 overall, 1-7 in the conference. Whether or not that's realistic could be determined on opening day in Ireland where the computer has PSU losing by 13.31 to UCF.
The East division is so loaded that schools on that side of the ledger have 5 of the conference's top 6 power ratings. The Buckeyes and Spartans will once again battle it out for the division title, but a big question mark arose for Urban Meyer's troops when star QB Braxton Miller was declared out for the season due to a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. Miller was injured in the Orange Bowl loss to Clemson and never fully recovered. The computer's undefeated forecast was determined prior to the injury.
It's a major surprise to find Minnesota atop the West division forecast. The Golden Gophers are picked to break a tie with Iowa in that group by notching a home win over the Hawkeyes on November 8.
An Ohio State-Minnesota championship game in Indianapolis would be a rematch of their regular season meeting in which the Buckeyes are picked to hold court by just 3.74 points at Minnesota. Ohio State is a 6.74-point favorite in the theoretical neutral site title contest. The Buckeyes would then be the No. 3 seed in the first college football playoff where they would be a 1.14-point underdog to No. 2 seed UCLA.
It is equally surprising to find Wisconsin as an expected 5th-place finisher in the West division, behind Minnesota and Iowa, as well as Northwestern and Nebraska. The Badger forecast includes a 1.32-point home loss to projected MAC champ Bowling Green, a 2.62-point underdog status at home to Maryland, and a half-point downside at home vs. Nebraska. Wisconsin has lost 3 home games in the last two years after winning 32-of-33 in Camp Randall prior to 2012.
Meanwhile, the computer says Maryland and Rutgers will be bowl-bound with the Terps going 8-4 and the Scarlet Knights finishing 7-5.
Nebraska's disappointing 6-6 forecast doesn't bode well for Bo Pelini if it holds true. He's been under scrutiny for turning in 6 consecutive 4-loss seasons while guiding the 'Huskers to a somewhat pedestrian record of 58-24. However, three of the projected losses are by less than 2 points so it wouldn't take much to turn those picks around as the season progresses.